New York Times OP/ED: A Prisoner Swap With Cuba 2

 Supporters of Alan Gross across from the White House last year. Credit Paul J. Richards/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

Supporters of Alan Gross across from the White House last year. Credit Paul J. Richards/Agence France-Presse — Getty Images

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Nearly five years ago, authorities in Cuba arrested an American government subcontractor, Alan Gross, who was working on a secretive program to expand Internet access on the island. At a time when a growing number of officials in Washington and Havana are eager to start normalizing relations, Mr. Gross’s continued imprisonment has become the chief obstacle to a diplomatic breakthrough.

There is only one plausible way to remove Mr. Gross from an already complicated equation. The Obama administration should swap him for three convicted Cuban spies who have served more than 16 years in federal prison.

Officials at the White House are understandably anxious about the political fallout of a deal with Havana, given the criticism they faced in May after five Taliban prisoners were exchanged for an American soldier kidnapped in Afghanistan. The American government, sensibly, is averse to negotiating with terrorists or governments that hold United States citizens for ransom or political leverage. But in exceptional circumstances, it makes sense to do so. The Alan Gross case meets that criteria.

Under the direction of Development Alternatives Inc., which had a contract with the United States Agency for International Development, Mr. Gross traveled to Havana five times in 2009, posing as a tourist, to smuggle communications equipment as part of an effort to provide more Cubans with Internet access. The Cuban government, which has long protested Washington’s covert pro-democracy initiatives on the island, tried and convicted Mr. Gross in 2011, sentencing him to 15 years in prison for acts against the integrity of the state.

Early on in Mr. Gross’s detention, Cuban officials suggested they might be willing to free him if Washington put an end to initiatives designed to overthrow the Cuban government. After those talks sputtered, the Cuban position hardened and it has become clear to American officials that the only realistic deal to get Mr. Gross back would involve releasing three Cuban spies convicted of federal crimes in Miami in 2001.

In order to swap prisoners, President Obama would need to commute the men’s sentences. Doing so would be justified considering the lengthy time they have served, the troubling questions about the fairness of their trial, and the potential diplomatic payoff in clearing the way toward a new bilateral relationship.

The spy who matters the most to the Cuban government, Gerardo Hernández, is serving two life sentences. Mr. Hernández, the leader of the so-called Wasp Network, which infiltrated Cuban exile groups in South Florida in the 1990s, was convicted of conspiracy to commit murder. Prosecutors accused him of conspiring with authorities in Havana to shoot down civilian planes operated by a Cuban exile group that dropped leaflets over the island urging Cubans to rise up against their government. His four co-defendants, two of whom have been released and returned home, were convicted of nonviolent crimes. The two who remain imprisoned are due for release relatively soon.

Feature continues here: NYT Seeks to Reward Cuban Hostage-Taking







  1. Let’s keep the three spies in prison to show the Castro regime that he should not be messing with the US.If our Government release the three remaining spies,this act will open doors for the Cuban tyranny to increase its actions and to continue infiltrating spies in our nation with impunity.

  2. The subject of prisoner swap as a matter of precedent and as prior agreed-to by the U.S. is nothing new. It is a part of U.S. History prior to the Cold War, during the Cold War, post Cold War and as recent as the year 2010 and 2014 as follows:

    1.) For instance, Moscow and Washington conducted the biggest prisoner Exchange, post the Cold War, in 2010. Ten alleged Russian spies arrested in the US were traded for four convicted Russian spies. Russia’s Foreign Intelligence Service and the U.S. agreed on the swap deal “on the grounds of humanitarian character and principles of constructive partnership” and in the “context of improvement of Russian-American relations,”. This is textually what the Russian Foreign Ministry said at that time. The action was meant to give the relations between the two states “new dynamics which fit in with top level agreements between Moscow and Washington on the strategic partnership,” the ministry said in its statement.

    2.) In May 2014, five Taliban fighters were released in a prisoner swap with the sole remaining American military hostage; Sgt. Bowe Bergdahl

    Additionally, during the Cold War spy prisoner swaps were quite common practice as follows:

    1.) The most significant case: a Soviet spy, KGB colonel Rudolf Abel known as William Fischer. On February 10, 1962 was exchanged for American pilot Francis Gary Powers, who was shot down over the USSR on May 1, 1960, sentenced to 10 years in prison. The exchange took place on the Glienicke Bridge connecting Potsdam, East Germany, to West Berlin.

    2.) In December 1962 the U.S. swaped tractors and $50 million in exchange for the aprehended soldiers of the brigade 2506 of the Bay of Pigs Invasion. Ramon Conte Hernández, 56, who was with the 2506 Brigade was freed at the request of Sen. Edward M. Kennedy, D-Mass. He was the last imprisoned member of a United States-sponsored forcé–the 2506 Brigade that launched the Bay of Pigs invasion of Cuba in April 1961.

    2.) Two years later, in 1964 the same bridge served as scene of another swap: Soviet Konon Molody traded for British spy Greville Wynne. Molody, known in the West as Gordon Arnold Lonsdale, an illegal resident spy during the Cold War and mastermind of a Portland Spy Ring operated in UK from late 1950s to 1961.

    3.) Relations between the United States and Cuba appeared to be improving with an agreement of December 1984 that provided for the return of 2,700 “Cuban criminals” and “mental patients” who entered the United States on the Mariel boatlift swaped in exchange for 20,000 Cubans granted to come to the United States.

    4.) In February 1986, a famous Soviet dissident Anatoly Shcharansky (now Natan Sharansky) imprisoned for treason and espionage was swapped for Communist spies arrested in 1984: Karl Koecher and Hana Koecher.

    Those are just a few examples out of a number of prisoner swap deals that have been conducted by the U.S. as recent and which establish long term precedent dating back to the Cold War and even prior to that time back to the Civil War in the U.S..

    It is history revisited as far as the U.S. is concerned with regards to proceeding to do this latest prisoner swap. This time it is a three-to-one prisoner swap ratio Cuba and U.S., respectively. Particularly now that the U.S. is in a mode to normalize Diplomatic relations with Cuba. If such is the case a prisoner swap could set the basis to sitting down to start talks to normalize Diplomatic relations between the U.S. and Cuba. As an after thought, the mayority of Cuban Americans in the U.S. today are in favor of normalizing relations to achieve the end of the U.S. failed trade embargo against Cuba.

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